Royal Air Force honours Canadian heroes at National Arboretum

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Wg Cdr McMahon, seen here laying a wreath at the memorial to the Royal Canadian Air Force at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. Photo: Sgt Graham Taylor RAF - UK MOD © Crown copyright 2021.

The RAF have paid tribute to the Canadian Air Force with a Dakota flyover and rededication service at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

First unveiled in 2011 by HRH the Duke of Gloucester and attended by senior representatives of the RAF and Canada, the Memorial which is set in the extensive grounds of the site in Staffordshire, is a timeless thanks to those who served in the Canadian Air Forces and to those from many nations who have supported them.

Comprising a granite pillar encircled with stone donated by the LaFarge company taken from the Canadian Shield, making this a piece of Canada in the middle of the UK. It also features a brief history of the Canadian Air Forces and the poem “High Flight” written by John Gillespie Magee which is widely referred to as the “Airman’s Poem”. Fittingly Magee was an American pilot, one of many who served in Canadian Squadrons at the outbreak of war. This is represented in both English and French, the two official languages of Canada. 

Wg Cdr Jon McMahon representing the RAF said:

“British and Canadian Air Forces have stood shoulder to shoulder throughout their histories. It is especially fitting therefore that we again joined forces today to rededicate this memorial in memory of the sacrifices made by Canadian airmen and women serving alongside their British colleagues.

I am deeply honoured and humbled to be able to represent RAF High Wycombe, the former home of Bomber Command, from which the greatest RCAF losses were recorded throughout the Allied bombing campaign of the Second World War –  A la prochaine, mon frère.”

The Dakota from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight provided a poignant flypast over the ceremony, a type synonymous with the Second World War and a link with the key role that military aviation played in the development of Canada as a nation. This was especially evident after the First World War when the vast size of Canada was able to benefit from the unique capabilities of air transport as a supply and communication tool.

Image of a Dakota aircraft from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, seen here flying over the RCAF memorial at the dedication, while L Col Theriault reflects on past sacrifices.

The wartime arrival of so many service personnel was felt widely in the areas hosting the large bomber squadrons and especially in North Yorkshire where complete Canadian crews were often matched with a British Flight Engineer. The memorial was built in a project led by the two RAF stations at Leeming and Linton on Ouse.

Sqn Ldr Alfred Hall from the project team explained:

“The early bomber aircraft had two engines and didn’t require an engineer but this changed as the new “heavy” bombers arrived and the RAF was able to provide those.

This resulted in lifetime friendships between the people of both nations. I know one veteran who still enjoys visits from the family of his wartime pilot who travel from Toronto to reminisce.”

The ceremony included a wreath laying by both nations and by Mr Ken Cothliff whose father served with the RCAF. A particular highlight was the attendance of Lt Col Theriault, a serving RCAF officer representing the Canadian High Commission in London.

Photo credit: Sgt Graham Taylor RAF – UK MOD © Crown copyright 2021

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